Booking It Yourself? Be Careful.

I’ve seen some Facebook chatter lately that’s made me think—right or wrong—that a lot of people are taking long-distance train rides for the first time. Maybe it’s because they’ve heard about the Trump budget that would eliminate all federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance trains. Could be that people hearing that think they’d better take that long-distance train ride while they still can. At any rate, from some of the questions these folks have posted on Facebook, it’s painfully clear that they know precious little about the basics of U.S. train travel circa 2017.

One fellow said he’s booked the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago and will fly the same day from Chicago to wherever he lives on the East Coast. Uh-oh! The Zephyr’s scheduled arrival time in Chicago is 2:50 p.m. and his flight out of O’Hare leaves at 6:30 p.m. Personally, I’d give him about a 10-percent chance of pulling that off.

Assuming the Zephyr arrives in Chicago on time, and assuming he’d better arrive at O’Hare no less than 90 minutes before his flight leaves, he’ll be in trouble if train #6 is any more than an hour late into Chicago. That would allow just about an hour to get out to O’Hare about when rush hour is getting under way. And, by the way, the Zephyr’s on time performance was 40% for the past 12 months, and just 22% for the month of June.

My advice: If you’re new to long-distance train travel, and your itinerary includes more than one train, don’t try to book it yourself on line. Get help from one of Amtrak’s very competent reservation agents at 800-USA-RAIL. Or implement Plan B, find a rail savvy travel agent.